Bar Council cautions over online guilty pleas

21 June 2017

Using a smartphone to plead guilty to a criminal offence may seem convenient, but the Bar Council has warned that Government plans to roll out online pleas, outlined in today's Queen's Speech, risk down-playing potentially serious consequences for defendants.

Responding to Government plans to introduce a Courts Bill, similar to the Prisons and Courts Bill which fell at the end of last parliament, Chair of the Bar Andrew Langdon QC said:

"Defendants must be offered a genuine choice about how they enter their plea. They must also be made aware of their right to consult a lawyer. 

"Inviting defendants to use an online procedure to indicate a plea risks trivialising potentially serious consequences for those accused of committing offences."

Other provisions of the Bill outlined today relate to virtual hearings, cross examination and career progression for judges.

The Chair said: "The Bar Council will work closely with Government and parliamentarians to scrutinise and interpret the provisions of the Bill when it is published and to support constructive improvements where necessary.

"Technology has the potential to enhance our system of justice and to provide greater convenience to some court users. If used correctly, it can also save unnecessary expenditure. But we must ensure that convenience and cost do not override other important considerations."

ENDS

Notes to Editors 

  1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
  2. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 
  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
  • Fair access to justice for all
  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board